In this final video in my series on attribution, I give you my two-cents worth on how to use our knowledge of attribution when problems occur at work. Attributions are explanations for behavior we observe in others and ourselves. When behavior hits our radar screen, it’s usually because something unexpected or unacceptable has happened. Because of attribution errors and biases, managers and employees are often left pointing the finger at each other, which leads to ineffective problem solving and poor relations among managers and employees.
Managers either fail to see or hate to admit that the systems (e.g. training, staffing, supervision) they control might be causing the behavioral problems they observe in employees. It is much easier to blame employees (the fundamental attribution error) than it is to fix crappy systems.
Employees are so used to being blamed when problems occur that their knee-jerk reaction is to become defensive and accept as little responsibility as possible for the problem (the self-serving bias). They have learned from experience that managers prefer to blame and flame instead of taking the time and effort to learn the deeper causes of behavior, so the employee’s main motivation is simply to survive.
If you want a more effective environment for solving problems at work, YOU are going to have to model the way. You have to stop blaming employees and partner with them to search for the systemic causes of behavior. And you have to be able to accept responsibility and admit when something YOU control might have contributed to the problem. When you do this, you will teach your employees that you are fair and that it is safe for them to accept responsibility for learning from instead of running from problems.
It’s your choice. Get control of your attributions and teach others to do the same and you will be much more effective as a leader.